F1 circuits history part 1: 1950

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Starting today is the first in a new series looking at how Formula 1 circuits have changed since the world championship started in 1950.

From the days of 14-mile monsters like the Nurburgring to today’s computer-designed autodromes in exotic venues like Shanghai, the evolution of F1 circuits reveals how the sport has expanded beyond its European heartland and how attitudes towards safety have radically changed racing.

The first instalment looks at the seven tracks that made up the original calendar of 1950 – four of which were still being visited by Formula 1 last year.

Silverstone, Great Britain

The venue of the first ever World Championship Grand Prix, Silverstone opened in 1948 on the site of an RAF airfield. In 1950 the track had eight corners – today it has twice as many. Originally the landing strips that criss-cross the site were incorporated within the circuit.

Read other F1 fans’ experiences of visiting Silverstone

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

The first Monaco Grand Prix was held in 1929. After its appearance in the first world championship the race was absent from the calendar until 1955, and has been a permanent fixture since then.

The pits were originally on the harbour side of the straight and in 1950 the track was much simpler than it is today in configuration – the track was almost straight from Tabac to the hairpin, with no swimming pool complex and no Rascasse. Sainte Devote was also a more open corner and the chicane at the harbour front was faster.

Read other F1 fans’ experiences of visiting Monte-Carlo

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, United States of America

The Indianapolis 500 was part of the Formula 1 calendar until 1960 despite the cars being built to largely different technical regulations. None of the drivers who won it in that period won any other F1 races. However F1 returned to the venue – albeit on its road course – in 2000.

Read F1 fans’ experiences of visiting Indianapolis

Bremgarten, Switzerland

The Swiss circuit at Bremgarten near Bern held many races in the pre-championship years. The part cobbled surface exacted a heavy toll on machinery.

The final Grand Prix at the circuit was in 1954. The following year motor racing was banned in Switzerland due to the 1955 Le Mans disaster which killed a driver and over 80 spectators.

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Spa in Belgium remains on the calendar today – but at just under 7km it is half the length it was in 1950. Instead of turning right at what is Les Combes today, back then the circuit weaved left towards Burnenville and looped slowly around to the right before re-joining the modern circuit just before Blanchimont.

Zoom in halfway along the southernmost straight and you can see the fearsomely fast Masta Kink. And before the distinctive hairpin at La Source the approach is straight – no Bus Stop Chicane in those days.

Read other F1 fans experiences of visiting Spa-Francorchamps

Reims-Gueux, France

The original Reims circuit was a classic road course, navigating a triangular course between the villages of Thillois (east), Gueux (south west) and Muizon (north west). Courses on public roads such as this were common in the 1950s but were steadily being replaced with more purpose-built tracks. The long straights meant races at Reims became flat-out slipstreaming battles like those at Monza (below).

The image at the top is of Juan Manuel Fangio racing at Reims in 1954, by which time the track had been re-routed away from Gueux.

Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Italy

The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was and still is sited in a park north of Milan. The 1950 configuration looks very similar to today’s with two major differences. First, there were no chicanes. And second, the final corner before the start/finish line was Vedano, a double-right hander, used before the modern Parabolica.

In later races the huge banked oval was also incorporated – as we will see in a later part of this series. Here are some pictures of the Monza banking.

Read F1 fans’ experiences of visiting the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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6 comments on “F1 circuits history part 1: 1950”

  1. Nathan Jones
    5th January 2008, 9:50

    i dont see many chicanes or autodrome layouts there?
    rather depressing to look at these then look at todays tracks!
    todays cars could easily overtake on those tracks above!

  2. Wow, I hadn’t quite appreciated what the original Spa layout was like.

    It’s the relative simplicity of the tracks that stands out. I don’t really know how those layouts came about, but I guess it was a more natural process, following what roads there were, airfields etc. rather than the more sterile Tilke computer efforts of today. I know aerodynamics requires certain corner “complexes” blah blah but look at the little circuit maps of the 2008 calendar and you’d swear to god Tilke was being paid by the (slow) corner. I’d rather see a car going through 8 great corners 100 times than 16 mediocre corners 50 times.

    Somehow Tilke has to get that “classic” spirit of the old tracks into his own designs.

    Very interesting article :-D

  3. theRoswellite
    6th January 2008, 17:29

    Great, great effort…thanks loads for this series.
    Just a comment on the important “emotional component” of a race course. I’ve felt for years that the powers that be in the sport don’t realize that many (most)fans have a strong attachment to not only the cars and the drivers, but to the tracks as well. If you look at the most successful races over decades, the races that have endured, you will find very unusual tracks….tracks that capture some special aspect of the landscape (Monaco for God’s sake), or tracks that allow the cars to perform in a way that “dramatizes” the competition (Spa).
    The major problem with the new circuits is they have no uniqueness or personality. You can say all you want to about the unsafe conditions of the Le Mans Mulsanne(sp?) strait…., my imagination as a kid was captured by the thought of the cars going flat-out for 8 miles. I don’t think the people, person (Tilke), building race courses today have much imagination…or,more likely….the tracks are required to meet a standard template….sad really, and dull. There use to be famous corners…(the Corkscrew at Laguna)…, now tracks seem to be judged on the pit facilities as much as anything. Thanks Bernie!

  4. “There use to be famous corners…(the Corkscrew at Laguna)…, now tracks seem to be judged on the pit facilities as much as anything.”

    Exactly! How many Tilke corners can you name? (OK, he doesn’t seem to bother naming them, it’s all “turn 4” nowadays, but how many truly memorable corners can you think of?) Other than the quadruple apex one at Istanbul (his one high point), nothing else springs to mind. Maybe turn one at Shanghai, a bit different but it’s hardly a brilliant one.

  5. Wonderful series ! thanks so much Keith – this is what it´s all about. The sense of drama and speed of F1 racing is a direct result of the track and its environment. I wish that future regulations take this into account so that historical venues are not made obsolete by the cars.
    Historic race tracks I guess are based on public roads, and these follow the contours of the terrain. I wish race track design was approached more in the spirit of golf course design in some ways. These modern Tilke tracks seem to be more about a display of infrastructure than anything else.
    And by the way, I love cars at high speed. Bernie seems to think that the Tilke tracks with one slow turn after the other are exciting, but I dont think so at all.

  6. My 3 favourite tracks in the world are all historic circuits. The old 14km spa (current one is still good though), the old 10km monza combined circuit, and the old nurburgring. Imo tilke tracks are all basically the same, they aren’t bad, but nothing stands out as really good or exciting. I would prefer f1 races be held at the most exciting/demanding circuits in the world. What tilke did to hockenheim and osterreichring is dispicable! Two epic tracks with so much character, they had their own unique challenges, and everyone loved them, drivers included. Now hockenheim is just another boring stadium track, and osterreich was brutally butchered to make a1 ring, which no one ever liked at all. Tilke and Bernie both deserve a punch in the face for each track they’ve desecrated

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